Police have detained the manager of a casino in Kandal province for questioning after video footage showed dozens of Vietnamese workers fleeing the building, raising concerns about human trafficking or forced labor.
The shocking video, posted on Facebook on Thursday, showed workers rushing out of the casino, chased by security guards brandishing wooden sticks. Some jumped into the river in Chrey Thom commune near the border with Vietnam, and swam to the neighbouring country.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng told reporters on Friday, after he met with a ministerial group overseeing human trafficking, that police had arrested a manager of the casino.
“They are Vietnamese and ran back to Vietnam because they had a disagreement,” Mr. Kheng said.
The minister said that while he didn’t yet have all the facts, it seemed the Vietnamese nationals: “might have come to work illegally, and been promised [a high] salary.”
When they were not paid what they’d been promised by the casino, they fled, he said, though not all of the workers had returned to Vietnam.
“We have arrested a manager for further questioning,” he added.
Kong Sophorn, Kandal provincial governor, said that the case involved 45 Vietnamese nationals and they weren’t fleeing illegal confinement but instead ran out of the casino after a dispute with management.
“There was a labor dispute, we don’t know exactly what they argued about because they all ran out and now they’ve been detained by Vietnamese authorities,” he said.
“When security tried to prevent them from leaving, they threatened them with a knife and so security took sticks to fight back,” Mr. Sophorn said, adding that some of the workers who jumped in the river were seen laughing so it showed they couldn’t have been victims of abuse.
The governor also alleged the workers had violated company rules by using drugs. The company then fined them for the breach of contract and the workers reacted angrily, resulting in them running out of the building, he added.
The manager who was detained was a Chinese national, he said.
Choeun Sochet, provincial police chief, declined to comment, as did Koh Thom district governor Eng Sovichet. Chhay Kimkhouen, national police spokesman, and Keo Vanthan, of the Immigratoin Department, could not be reached for comment. Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak also declined to comment.
“The issue was related to [labor] disputes with the company and the casino’s managing director,” said Kandal province’s administrative director, Kruy Malen, declining to comment further.
Soeng Senkaruna, a senior investigator at rights group Adhoc, called on the authorities to thoroughly investigate the strange incident.
“We are worried because it should not happen in our society, they were being chased by security guards holding wooden sticks and some workers were forced to jump into the river,” he said.
“From what I have seen [in the video clip], they had planned their escape from that building, it seemed like they were being held against their will or persecuted,” Mr. Senkaruna said.
If that is found to be the case, police must arrest the casino’s owners, he added.
Cambodia is listed as a Tier 3 country on the US’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons report, the lowest of three designations.
However, the report says the government of Cambodia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. It cites endemic corruption and an unwillingness to hold human traffickers accountable.
Last month, Al Jazeera released a horrific 40-minute investigative documentary showing foreign call-center workers held against their will in Cambodia and beaten for trying to escape.
Vietnamese online newspaper VnExpress reported last month that some 400 Vietnamese citizens who had been tricked by traffickers and sent to Cambodia had already been rescued and repatriated this year.
Separately, The Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (Central) said
62 Indonesian nationals were rescued from captivity in Sihanoukville earlier this month. Central said they had also recorded dozens of cases of local and foreign workers trafficked to work at Chinese casinos.
Last year, Central also recorded 32 cases of Cambodian, Thai, and Vietnamese workers who had been trafficked and forced to work for illegal online gambling rings – many of them headed by Chinese gangs. (Additional reporting by Sorn Sarath)